Physical and mental disorders are often comorbid, reflecting an entire system that is out of balance. A healthy state, both physically and mentally reflects a state of equilibrium and stability that every organism wishes to achieve (Wallace, 2008).When one portion of the system is out of balance, the entire system can be out of balance. The degree to which the system is out of balance determines the degree of the disturbance.
A child that has greater resilience skills can recover from a greater disturbance than a child with little resiliency. Everyone has heard stories of the rich and famous who rose up from situations of poverty and despair to become something great. This is exactly what this research is about. Eriksson's psychosocial model sets up the situation that the person must overcome. Wallace's theory on resiliency provides an understanding of what the child needs to overcome these circumstances to become a productive adult, despite their early hardships. The theories of Eriksson and Wallace provide the underpinnings of this research into the connection between resiliency and academic success.
Factors that Affect Academic Achievement
The previous discussion provides the background for an exploration into the factors that contribute to academic performance. Many studies have been undertaken by the academic community that have sought to discover the conditions that promote academic performance. Understanding the factors that influence academic achievement and where resiliency fits into these factors, will play an important role in guiding future research into this area.
A longitudinal study conducted by Hanson & Austin (2003) explored factors that influenced academic success in California students. Finding ways to increase academic performance has been a key topic of concern for many years. Standardized testing increased the stakes for schools systems. In response to a need to increase overall school performance, schools have spent considerable time and effort finding ways to improve individual student outcomes.
Health risks and low resilience assets are equally detrimental to test scores in high and low performing schools (Hanson & Austin, 2003). Substance use and availability were found to be more detrimental to high performing schools than for low performing ones. Several factors were found to be important to academic success in high performing schools. Students who do not engage in risky behaviors or violence were better performers than students who engaged in these activities. Students who ate nutritious meals, engaged in exercise, had caring relationships, and high expectations were more likely to achieve higher test scores than those who did not (Hanson & Austin, 2003).
A feeling of safety in the school environment also had an important affect on test scores in California schools. In schools that had high levels of harassment due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability tended to have lower test scores than schools that did not have high incidences of these events. In addition, schools that had high levels of violence, vandalism, theft, physical fighting and weapons possession also tended to have considerably lower test scores (Hanson & Austin, 2003). The continual stress from the school environment means that students must have a higher level of resilience in order to overcome the effects of their environment.
Eliminating stresses in the school environment is one answer to the problem. However, this is only half of the equation. Stresses stem from many sources that are outside of the school environment, such as the home or community in which the student lives. The school can only control the school environment to a certain degree. They cannot control all of the environmental factors that have an impact on the student. Therefore, developing an understanding for what contributes to building the student's resilience is an important factor in helping them to cope both inside and outside of the school setting.
Hanson & Austin explored resilience assets as part of their evaluation of factors that influence academic performance. This study found that both internal and external assets promote resilience and serve and protective factors from involvement in health compromising and performance-compromising factors. External resilience assets included caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities for meaningful participation in school, home, community and peer environments. Internal resilience assets included cooperation, communication skills, self-efficacy, empathy, problem solving abilities, self-awareness, goals and aspirations.
The Hanson and Austin study found that every measure of external resilience was linked positively to test score outcomes. Test scores increased in schools where the students demonstrated higher levels of external resilience assets. A student survey was used to assess student feelings about these factors, Schools who had low percentages of students who felt sad or depressed scored lower than those whose students had a somewhat happier outlook on life. Resilience assets were important for improvement in test scores for both high and low performing schools.
Several articles support the importance of resilience and protective factors in academic achievement. A study by Wasonga, Christman, & Lloyd (2003) found that differences existed in resilience and protective factors according to a student's age, ethnicity, and gender in urban schools. This study supports the work by Hanson & Austin (2003), as it suggests that environmental factors in the school setting help to influence the development of resilience in students. Promoting an atmosphere that discourages harassment based on ethnicity, gender, or age is an important step in the creation of a resilient student body.
Resilience was found to be a greater predictor of academic performance, and later job performance, than IQ scores and raw intelligence (Kitano & Lewis, 2005). This same study found that resilient children share several common attributes and that these attributes were universal regardless of ethnic identity or social background. These characteristics related to cultural values and experiences in the earlier years of their development. Early childhood experiences go beyond one's financial or social standing. Children have demonstrated the ability to develop excellent coping strategies in the best of environmental situations and in the worst of environmental situations (Kitano & Lewis, 2005).
One of the more recent trends in academic literature regarding resiliency and trauma or stress centers on the concept that resiliency can be taught. The ability to self-regulate one's cognitive, motivational and behavioral aspects of academic function was found to be an important factor in the development of successful learners (Nota, Soresi, & Zimmerman, 2004). Fostering the ability to self-regulate is an important factor in the ability to build resilience in the student body.
Building strong communities and families is the key to fostering resilience among students and increasing academic success. Studies support the importance of building partnerships between schools, communities, and families (Bryan, 2005). Children living in poverty can develop resiliency, provided that they receive the correct support from their family and community (Gizir, 2004).
A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania suggested that resiliency can be taught to children. The study involved a group of children who were taught using the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) to help them learn to overcome difficult situations or emotions (Gillham & Reivich, 2007). This program provided students with resilience concepts through role playing, stories and cartoons. They were then asked to apply these skills to real-world situations and daily living skills. This program is targeted at late elementary and early middle school students.
Unmanaged stress in children manifests in many different ways from academic underachievement to misbehavior. Reprimands do not help children calm down and focus. These actions can make them worse, rather than better, according a New York City School study (Lantieri, 2008). Unmanaged stress has many negative effects on people's emotions and health. Resilience results from the ability to manage stress. Developing coping skills is a key focus of resilience training. A recent study in New York City Schools used a program that taught students to systematically relax their bodies and allow their minds to focus to help them build better resilience. This program helped children learn to control inner stress and achieve greater focus on school-related tasks (Lantieri, 2008). Students experienced greater academic achievement and a decrease in behavioral problems in the classroom.
Teachers can play an important role in the ability of a student to develop resilience, even in the aftermath of domestic violence. Children can begin to develop coping skills by being taught to rebound from violent television programming. Successful training in this aspect of their lives sets them up to develop coping skills for more realistic events in their world (Mcentire, 2009). Teachers can help young children by fostering warm, nurturing relationships and by providing them with a supportive network.
Social support plays one of the most important roles in developing resilience among children of all ages. Mentoring programs in schools has been traditionally viewed as a career development activity. However, Day (2006) promotes it as more than that. Mentoring helps to foster social buffers that can help the child to build warmth, love, and support. This can be an important experience for children who do not receive these feelings from their home environment. Family and peer support or strain demonstrated a dramatic…